”Hoo boy - look at that blue sky. Today's a good day! Drink coffee do ya?"
I was trying out the Adirondack Chair in front of a woodworking shop by the Missouri River in Hermann, Missouri when a wiry man in his 80's came around the corner with a steaming cup in each hand.
"Uh... sure - that would be great. Thank you.”
He handed me one of the cups and stuck out his right hand. “The name’s Roy. I own this place, just like my Daddy and his Daddy before him. Your timing is good today - I always take my morning coffee about now. Nice to have a visitor." He was dressed in traditional brown carpenter overalls and had an animated rapid fire way of speaking. When he shook my hand, I was struck by the strength of his grip. “Been around here all my life but I don’t recognize ya. What brings you to this neck of the woods?"
I explained that my wife and I were visiting from St. Louis and had taken a long weekend to relax and enjoy the fall weather. I was strolling along the riverfront when I noticed the chair in front of his shop and decided to have a look.
He smiled. "That's good. Seems nowadays people your age don't take enough time to just enjoy bein' alive. Everybody wants the big houses and the fancy cars, but life passes 'em by while they're out earnin' that big pile of dough. Nice to see somebody smellin' the roses for a change!”
We chatted for a time and then sat quietly for a few moments, sipping the hot coffee and enjoying the view. A slight breeze shook the gold and orange leaves that still hung in the branches. Off in the distance a train whistle blew.
"Hear that whistle? It's the Kansas City Mule. Runs everyday between St. Louis & Kansas City. Gets here around 10:30 every morning. 'Bout an hour from now, my buddy Jones will stop by and we'll head to lunch. Yessir, today's a good day because I believe it's Jones’ turn to buy!"
He chuckled to himself, took a final sip of coffee, and stood up.
“Why don’t ya come on in - I’ll show ya my shop.”
Stepping into Roy’s wood shop was like stepping back in time. I was immediately enveloped by the aroma of cedar and the sight of century old tools lining the wall. There appeared to be nothing in his shop powered by electric other than two bare incandescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling and an old clock radio (twist dial, not digital) on a shelf near the door. Freshly sawn 10 inch wide cedar planks were arranged side by side in the middle of the floor.
Roy pointed with a slightly crooked index finger. “Ya see them cedar planks? Today I’m startin’ on a hope chest for Mrs. Bronson up at the bank. She wanted something made by hand as a surprise graduation gift for her daughter next spring, so mum’s the word, got it?” I smiled and nodded.
“The reason I got them boards all laid out like that is so they can tell me what they wanna be. Now you might think that sounds a little kooky, but this here wood is a living breathing thing,” he tapped my chest “just like you and me. So I sit here all quiet like for awhile, just starin’ at them boards. I think some people call it meditatin’. Next thing ya know, them boards has told me EXACTLY how they wanna go together. Believe it or don’t but I’m tellin’ ya… it works EVERY time.”
“Ya might notice everything in this shop works the old way, with a steady hand and some elbow grease. There’s a reason for that. When I make things the old way, a part of ME goes into everything I make. Ya don’t get that personal touch when somethin’s made by a machine.” A wiry finger gently tapped my chest again. “Ya can’t FEEL the wood with all that electric zappin’ around. Ya can’t HEAR the wood with all that whirring and buzzing. Ya gotta connect with that wood… do ya hear what I’m tellin’ ya?”
As I smiled and nodded his gaze stayed locked on my eyes for a moment “New and improved don’t always mean better. My Daddy taught me that.” He smiled a knowing smile. “I believe you get it. I got that feeling about ya.”
He invited me to stick around for awhile. I wandered around the shop admiring his meticulously maintained tools while he began the process of flattening the first board. He took his time securing the board on his workbench. Once he was satisfied the plank wouldn’t move at an inopportune time, he retrieved the necessary tool from its spot on the wall. The words ‘1918 - Sandusky Tool Co.’ had been burned into the aged patina of the two foot long block plane.
He was just about to begin when he suddenly stopped. “Aw fiddlesticks! Almost forgot.” He put the block plane down on the bench and walked over to the radio. He fiddled with the dial for a moment until he found a station playing jazz. He smiled as he walked back to his bench. “How about that - Django Reinhardt! The song matches this piece of wood pretty good, doncha think?”
I watched for almost an hour, mesmerized by the repetitive sound of the plane and the peaceful sound of jazz guitar in the background. I was fascinated at how the master became one with his work. The surface of the board was completely flat but showed just the tiniest hint that it was flattened by something other than a machine. It’s difficult to explain but impossible to miss and utterly amazing when you see and feel it firsthand.
I glanced at my watch. It read 11:30 and from what Roy said earlier, his buddy Jones would be by any minute. I didn’t want to be the obstacle to Roy collecting his free lunch. “Sir, this morning has been a real treat for me but I must be going. Thank you so much for letting me see your shop and watch you work.” I shook his hand and headed for the door.
“Hold on for a minute young fella - I got something to give ya."
As I waited by the door, I noticed the smell of fried chicken coming from the diner up the hill in the town. I made a mental note to take my wife there for lunch. Roy returned with a piece of paper in his hand.
"This here sheet tells you everything you need to know about that chair you were sittin' in earlier - size, type of wood, price... everything. I'll even box ‘em up & ship ‘em if that’s what a person wants. Understand me now” he leaned forward like he was telling me a secret “I’m not tryin' to hard sell ya - God willin' I'll be here tomorrow whether you buy a chair or you don’t.”
Roy turned the sheet over and pointed. “Now on the back there's what I REALLY want you to see. Most people don't get it, but I believe you will - I got that feelin' about ya! Go ahead and take this sheet with ya. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd best get back to work. I'm havin' a good day and I want to keep it rollin'!" Roy shook my hand again, patted my shoulder, wished me well... and off he went.
Here's what was written on the back of the sheet...
An old carpenter named Roy built this chair by hand with love. He’s seen a lot of things in his day, visited a lot of amazing places, met a lot of nice people. He may be old, but he’s learned a few things along the way...
If you can't appreciate what you have, why do you need more?
New and improved don’t always mean better.
Enjoy the journey just in case the destination changes.
Every day above ground is a good day!
Most of all, as the owner of this beautiful new chair, I wanna give you some advice....
Don't just do something - sit there!
Sincerely, Roy the Carpenter
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